Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bicycles for the Boys

When we decided to move Finn and Emmett into the same room this past fall, it seemed like a natural time to redecorate. Out went the soft sculpture rainbow and butterflies from the nursery, in with something new. But what?

Not sure how we came up with bicycles, but the boys loved the idea and so did Sean and I. It wasn't a common theme, which we loved, and it was clear from the get-go that we'd have to create and gather a lot of the details ourselves.

I found fabric for curtains (and perhaps patchwork duvet covers in the future) here and worked that in wherever I could; curtain pullbacks, valances, a bulletin board. We found the bicycle print at Uncommon Goods and my mom got us the bicycle mobile from Signals. I found picture frames made of bicycle chains at Ten Thousand Villages here in Champaign, which we used to frame recent (or, in the case of E, recent-ish) pictures of the boys on their bikes:

 Ready for the irony? About a month after we finished custom creating our very original theme, the Pottery Barn Kids catalog shows up, including a featured new line of - yeah - bicycles. The fabric is almost identical to what I used for window dressing and the kids' bulletin board.

From Pottery Barn Kids

Oh well. What we lack in uniquity we hopefully made up for in effort. Here are a few pics of the finished room. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Force Is Strong in These Parts

It's been just about a year since we invented Dapper Dinner here at our house. We've had many more since the inaugural event, generally born out of last minute spontaneity, and it has proven a valuable tool for making an otherwise unimportant night feel really special. We needed one of those last night...after starting the week in the middle of a polar vortex, we ended it with rain, rain, rain...the snow has turned to slush, the landscape is muddy and gray, and we all needed a pick me up. I suggested Dapper Dinner; Sean countered with "How about Jedi Dinner?"

We're a bit Star Wars mad around here right now. Action figures, Lego sets, movie viewings, books, dress-up. It's been lingering for a while now - the boys dressed as Luke and Yoda for Halloween, so I'm certain the fascination is at least three months old. Like most phases, I am confident it will pass, but in the meantime I'm having fun learning along with the boys.

So we eat Dagobasta (spiral pasta with pesto) and the boys drank Yoda Soda (sparkly water with Rosa's Lime Juice and a bit of sugar). We ate in front of the TV -- which we don't EVER do -- and, naturally we wore costumes. Emmett went with Anakin, Finn chose Darth Vader, Sean pulled out the R2D2 costume he made for Halloween, and I quickly twisted my hair into a Leia do (the boys wanted me to be Padme but I had neither the energy nor the wardrobe for that):

 And that's how we make our own merry. Happy winter, all.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Homemade Pretzels / The Never-ending Winter Break

Checking in from the frigid midwest, where the outside air temperature feels like -48 and a cup of boiling water vaporizes in mid-air when thrown out from the back porch. We were supposed to go back to school today - it's the end of winter break - but school was cancelled, and I just got the call that it is cancelled again for tomorrow. And while many of you out there are going cabin-fever-crazy, I am just plain giddy with happiness. I love being home with my boys.

Way back in my stay at home mom days, Finn and I got hooked on an obscure kids program called Hi-5. In a moment of apparent nostalgia, Finn requested it this morning, and I was all too happy to pull out the old DVDs. At some point during some episode there was a reference to soft pretzels, and I couldn't get it out of my head. And that's how Finn and I ended up making soft pretzels this chilly day. And, oh my goodness, if someone had told me years ago how easy it was to make AMAZING soft pretzels at home, I would have jumped on that bandwagon long ago.

So here you go. Whether you are stuck inside or just can't get the idea of a soft pretzel out of your head now, I hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

Homemade Pretzels
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

Makes 10-12 large pretzels


1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 packet active yeast (2 1/5 tsp.)
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
3-5 cups flour (I used half white, half whole wheat)
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
  2. In a large soup pot, bring 9 cups of water and 2/3 cup of baking soda to a boil.
  3. Dissolve yeast in warm water in bowl of stand mixer. Stir with a spoon until fairly mixed. Add salt and sugar. Stir until fairly combined. 
  4. Attach dough hook and turn mixer on low. Slowly add 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix on low until dough is thick. Add additional dough (up to one cup) until dough is no longer sticky.
  5. Turn up mixer and knead with dough hook for 3-5 minutes, until it forms a soft, supple ball.
  6. Turn the dough onto the counter. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into chunks, about 1/3 cup each (bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball).
  7. Roll each chunk into a rope with an even diameter. Once you have a long rope, take the ends and twist them together, then bring them to the middle. Press firmly.
  8. Using a slotted spoon, dunk each pretzel, one by one, into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Once cool enough to handle, dip into beaten egg (both sides). Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Repeat for each pretzel.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Turn oven to broil and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. Watch closely to avoid burning.
  10. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hello Blog

"Wherein Hope writes about cooking, crafting, photographing, parenting, organizing, and other day-to-day gerunds." Sigh. Still doing all those things, with varying levels of commitment and success...just not writing about them, much as I want to. So in an effort to get back to this here blog, here I am. New year. 2014!

  • Cooking: Plenty of new recipes attempted in the last few months. Some great, some passable. Some will end up here, most won't. I've really missed writing about our eating.
  • Crafting: Many gifts as of late. Knitting, mostly, with a few sewing projects thrown in for good measure. Some fabulous (super easy!) teacher gifts. Some fun with cork.
  • Photographing: Whenever I can. Many snowy days as of late. Favorites to come.
  • Parenting: My boys are growing faster than I can handle. Old challenges put to rest, new challenges on the rise. Much, much joy.
  • Organizing: Constantly rethinking our little house. Moved the boys into a room together earlier this fall. Tremendous thematic decorating fun.
  • And much more! 
So...if you are still with me, or just reading for the first time...thanks. I'll be here when I can.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pure Imagination

There's a whole lot keeping me from blogging these days, but nothing is going to stop me from taking a moment on this night to share the story of a very special birthday for a very special kid.

This guy.

This guy who, six years ago almost exactly to the minute as I write, came into the world and made me a mama. Today we celebrate Finn Kimbell, an extraordinary little man.

Finn is a kid who lives life fully. When talking to my parents last night, I used the word "zest," and it is so fitting. He is tremendously expressive, enormously enthusiastic about new things and experiences, and gets ridiculously excited about the littlest moments. I love this about him.

It was months ago that Finn came up with the idea for a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-themed party. It's the perfect match for him - he is that kid who walks into the Chocolate Room with eyes wide open, an enormous grin spread across his face, eager and ready to take it all in. He is my Charlie Bucket.

The party itself was great fun. We invited six friends from his Kindergarten class, three girls and three boys. The invites had Wonka bars printed on the front and golden tickets inside (which several of the kids brought to secure admission at the door). We played a few games, opened a few presents, and then...we ate chocolate.

We happen to be the proud owners of our own chocolate fountain. Got it on Kohl's clearance years and years ago and have gotten a ton of use out of it since. The fountain served as our chocolate waterfall, and my awesome husband lovingly recreated the Chocolate Room around it - lollipops, gumdrops, snow caps, gummi bears, you name it. I made two dozen pumpkin cupcakes that I frosted to look like the mushrooms in the movie, and Sean added those to the tablescape. It was fantastic:

My personal highlight? When Finn declared it the best party ever after saying goodbye to his last friend and gave us both hugs. Because he's that kid, too.

Happy birthday, Finn. So much love.

I'm convinced that the secret to a good theme party is the perfect font. I found this Willy Wonka font at
Table yummies
Child's eye view of the fountain

Soda water + fruit juice

Mushroom cupcakes

Party activity (take photos, make frames) + party favor

Thursday, July 18, 2013

No-Bake Energy Bites

So a few weeks back, I attempted to make homemade breakfast bars with no success whatsoever. I really wanted to find a homemade alternative to processed snack bars - I find that when I am trying to eat healthily, I all too easily fall into the trap of purchasing granola bars and energy bars which - let's be honest - just aren't all that healthy and are far more expensive that the sum of their parts. I definitely have a sweet tooth, so while I appreciate the thousands of articles recommending that I snack on almonds or celery sticks, I need a little sugar to get me by, particularly in the afternoons.

I found this recipe referenced in a magazine that my husband's cousin Ami left at the house when we were in Helena. This is the perfect opportunity to give Ami a shout-out since she informed me that she checks my blog every morning for updates - how's that for loyalty? With deepest apologies for the long, silent weeks, Ami, I thank you for leaving behind that magazine which led me to this awesome recipe! You rock!

These are crazy good. You probably have everything you need to make them right now, so walk away from your computer and go do that. There is lots of information on substitutions, etc. on the original blog which is linked below. The only thing I changed from the original recipe is the amount of coconut - my first batch seemed a bit flaky, so I cut back.


No-Bake Energy Bites
adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots


1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Mix everything above in a medium bowl until thoroughly incorporated.  Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.  Once chilled, roll into balls and enjoy!  Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week. (NOTE: They will not last one week. Guaranteed.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jiggity Jig

We're home. Sigh. It was a lovely, lovely vacation, filled with family and friends and beauty and happy kids.

When it comes to food, two things happen on the flip side of a vacation: we come home with a renewed commitment to healthy eating (generally brought on by weeks of microbrewed beer consumption and an "I'm on vacation" mentality), and we always come home to a fridge so empty it takes a good week to get it back to snuff. We've been home three days now, and I've spent a fair amount of energy on the latter. There are a few things we just always like to have in the fridge: staples, like milk and bread and cheese and eggs, and homemade items, like yogurt. Since we also came home to a vegetable garden two feet taller than the vegetable garden we left, Finn and I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon making pesto which found itself on whole wheat penne last night and will end up on a pizza later this week (while not a huge fan of packaged pizza dough, we're kind of crazy about the Pillsbury Artisan Whole Wheat Crust -- so good to have on hand!).

We ate a lot of hummus in Montana (I went to Costco for the very first time...wowzers!), but I really never tire of the stuff. It's great to have on hand when dinner isn't quite ready but the kids are already hungry. I liked the Costco stuff a lot (which is a good thing, since the container of it was ginormous), but I really like this easy recipe as's super easy to throw together on a weekly basis. Feel free to add ingredients to your heart's content (olives, roasted red peppers, etc.) - I'm somewhat of a hummus purist, but you can easily customize this basic recipe.

Happy summer, all!

Quick Hummus


1 16 oz. can chickpeas
~1/4 cup liquid from the can
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp tahini
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Throw garlic cloves into the food processor and pulse to mince. Add the chickpeas, the lemon juice, the tahini, and the olive oil. Add a bit of the liquid from the can, then a bit more, until you reach the desired consistency. Once blended, add salt to taste.

The key ingredient here is the liquid from the can. I've tried lots of hummus recipes and could never get the texture quite right. This is super yummy, super economical, and super easy to throw together. Tahini is the only unusually ingredient; however, once you buy a jar to make this once, you'll have it on hand whenever you want to make more.